Any coal trains left in New York State?

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Any coal trains left in New York State?

Postby rhallock » Wed Jan 13, 2016 12:20 am

With the fall from favor of coal as a power source and the resulting decrease in coal traffic on the rails, I was wondering how many, if any, coal users are left in New York and New England that result in coal trains in New York.
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Re: any coal trains left in NY?

Postby terms-d » Wed Jan 13, 2016 3:41 am

Coal trains on CSX still go to Ravena, NY, Kodak in Rochester, Somerset, and perhaps still to Kenmore and/or Dunkirk as well (not qualified out west). NS trains still go to Bow, NH, and Ludlowville, NY. They're definitely not nearly as common as they once were, but they still run occasionally.
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Re: any coal trains left in NY?

Postby BR&P » Wed Jan 13, 2016 8:15 am

Thanks a lot, Barry! :(
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Re: any coal trains left in NY?

Postby Matt Langworthy » Wed Jan 13, 2016 1:28 pm

The current issue Railfan & Railroad explores the decline of coal in depth. Yes, federal regulations (which began in the '70s) plays a role in decreased traffic, but there are other factors as well. States have added their own regulations and/or incentives for coal-fired to close or convert to natural gas. Metallurgical coal exports to foreign countries have fallen, too. Some coal seams have been mined out in WV, too. NS saw it coming, and this was part of the reason they wanted to acquire Conrail.

The final factor is the most ironic: fracking. Railroads have rushed to embrace to embrace the traffic related to drilling (which is a no-brainer) even as it drove the cost of natural gas down. As I recall, the article states natural gas is about $0.10 less per therm than coal now, and that costs adds up quickly. Speaking of NS, they are converting their Juniata shops from coal to gas fired power due to cost. They can see the trend, which I doubt will change unless natural gas rises in price.

***edited for spelling***
Last edited by Matt Langworthy on Wed Jan 13, 2016 2:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: any coal trains left in NY?

Postby tree68 » Wed Jan 13, 2016 6:01 pm

When I was in Utica in December I saw an eastbound coal train come through. I have no idea where it was headed, but it was running at speed.

Disclaimer - It could have been petcoke. Can't tell the difference as a casual observer.
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Re: any coal trains left in NY?

Postby Flat-Wheeler » Thu Jan 14, 2016 2:24 pm

terms-d wrote:Coal trains on CSX still go to Ravena, NY, Kodak in Rochester, Somerset, and perhaps still to Kenmore and/or Dunkirk as well (not qualified out west). NS trains still go to Bow, NH, and Ludlowville, NY. They're definitely not nearly as common as they once were, but they still run occasionally.


I've been aware of most of these for about 30 years now... except one. What is in Ravena that requires coal trains ? I see a rock & mineral mine that has a lime kiln plant, but I wouldn't think they burn through unit trains of coal.
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Re: any coal trains left in NY?

Postby Howiew » Thu Jan 14, 2016 3:30 pm

The power plants both in Dunkirk and the Town of Tonawanda (served out of the Kenmore Yard) will be shutting down this Spring. I don't know the status of the power plant in Somerset served by the Somerset RR, but operated and dispatched by CSX.
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Re: any coal trains left in NY?

Postby BR&P » Thu Jan 14, 2016 5:05 pm

The great War On Coal continues. Cuomo says he wants NY coal-free by 2020. Before long the hopper car will be as rare as the locomotive tender.
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Re: any coal trains left in NY?

Postby Flat-Wheeler » Fri Jan 15, 2016 12:03 pm

BR&P wrote:The great War On Coal continues. Cuomo says he wants NY coal-free by 2020. Before long the hopper car will be as rare as the locomotive tender.


Well just 2 years ago Norfolk Southern was doing a rebuild program on thousands of worn out hopper cars. Wonder what has come of that. And what in the world were they thinking ? Maybe they will find another use for them, such as stone, ore, and minerals. Possibly even grain if they build tops for a few hundred of them. They have ALOT invested in these cars already. :wink:

Same thing maybe occurring with the tanker cars. Everyone was scrambling to get the newest and most safe tanker cars built for the Bakken oil boom trains. Now we have a glut of oil on the market, prices have dropped to record lows, and now few oil producers want to waste their time & money pumping the crude into trains. Now we will have alot of obsolete tankcars going into dead lines and storage tracks, while unit trains of new tanks sit idle for now. :(
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Re: any coal trains left in NY?

Postby nessman » Fri Jan 15, 2016 7:48 pm

Most coal plants in New York are either idle, converted to natural gas / biomass, retired or in the process of being demolished. In Rochester - Russell station will be demolished soon. Beebee Station is in the process of demolition. Retired plants are too costly to bring back online and would face fierce opposition by the state, EPA, tree huggers, etc... They're still standing because it's cheaper to keep them mothballed than to pay for expensive environmental remediation.

Current operating coal plant statuses... for the most part - Kodak is the only continuously operating plant, but will go natural gas soon. 2 are peak demand plants, 3 are idle, and only one is only firing natural gas at peak demand. The future for coal in NY is looking very bleak.

* Cayuga - peak demand plant - http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/bro ... plant/2535
* Danskammer - only burning natural gas during peak demand, no coal since 10/2012 - http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/bro ... plant/2480
* Dunkirk - idled end of 2015 - future status unknown - http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/bro ... plant/2554
* Greenridge (Dresden) - idle since March 2011 - future plans call for biomass and natural gas - http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/bro ... plant/2527
* Huntley - idle, to be retired 3/2016 - http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/bro ... plant/2549
* Kodak Park - active, to be converted to natural gas in near future - http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/bro ... lant/10025
* Somerset - peak demand plant - http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/bro ... plant/6082

Natural gas is certainly enjoying a boom period now and it's hurting the bottom line for other forms of power production - especially coal and nuclear (Ginna and Fitzpatrick will likely be shut down in 2017). Add in all of the tax incentives for renewables (solar, wind, etc...) and that drives the wholesale electricity prices down even further. There's also oil fired generators - but those are mostly used as reserve or "peaker" plants that are fired up only when needed. When was the last time a unit oil tank train ran up to Oswego? Been 20 years.
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Re: any coal trains left in NY?

Postby BR&P » Sun Jan 17, 2016 12:34 pm

IMHO the more we rely on "the grid", the more vulnerable we are to massive failures of it, either from glitches or from deliberate sabotage. Yes, we DID have a massive blackout in the northeast in 1965 back when we had more small power plants, but that lasted only a few hours IIRC. I just don't feel as safe with all the local plants being closed down.

Coal trains are actually getting a double whammy - first from the low price of natural gas, and second from the environmental drum-beaters. Either one would crimp coal usage, but together they are just destroying an entire industry and injuring other related industries. Railroads cannot be expected to keep coal-serving lines sitting around for decades just in case they are needed down the road, and once they are removed they almost NEVER get rebuilt.

It's funny - each generation of railfans laments the passing of something that they either knew and lost, or just missed out on. Steam, various now-abandoned branches or entire railroads, first generation diesels, cabooses, we could name more. Who would have thought in the not-too-distant future, coal would join the endangered or extinct list.
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Re: any coal trains left in NY?

Postby Otto Vondrak » Mon Jan 18, 2016 10:29 am

(Puts on Moderator hat:)

"Can we please get back to the topic of coal traffic on New York State railroads? Thank you."

(Takes off Moderator hat, goes back to sleep.)

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Re: any coal trains left in NY?

Postby Leo_Ames » Thu Jan 21, 2016 4:58 am

Flat-Wheeler wrote:Well just 2 years ago Norfolk Southern was doing a rebuild program on thousands of worn out hopper cars. Wonder what has come of that. And what in the world were they thinking ? Maybe they will find another use for them, such as stone, ore, and minerals.


Ironically, they're even eliminating some of their own coal traffic in a small way.

http://www.nscorp.com/content/nscorp/en ... uniat.html

There will still be a lot of coal though to be hauled for years to come and traffic could easily increase depending on how the government swings with future administrations.

A lot of Norfolk Southern's hopper fleet was closing in on the end of its life, so even if they knew traffic would drop 50% in a decade or other such extremes, something had to be done to continue to haul the substantial remaining traffic. Plus a lot of their own rolling stock is devoted to business like the the export trade that's more likely to rebound compared to some of the large utility owned fleets. CSX also has rebuilt large numbers of cars over the past 2-3 years on account of such a large portion of their hopper fleet being over 30 years old.

Plus, aren't at least some of these rebuilds now gondolas instead of hoppers after being rebodied? That likely increases their versatility and ability to be reused or repurposed.
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Re: Any coal trains left in New York State?

Postby BR&P » Thu Jan 21, 2016 9:31 am

As more and more domestic power plants convert to gas or are eliminated altogether, the idled captive fleets will come off lease and have to be stored somewhere. And at some point the railroads which do haul export coal will likely evaluate the cost of acquiring those cars rather than rebuilding their own. Hard to predict.

Possible political changes after the election could help some, but that still will not end the low cost of natural gas. And if a power company has been driven to convert by present policies, once they make that commitment it's unlikely they will ever go back to coal no matter who is living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
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Re: Any coal trains left in New York State?

Postby nessman » Sat Jan 23, 2016 9:17 pm

Fuhrer Cuomo's intent is to close Somerset and Cayuga by 2020 - making NY "coal free" by then. Kodak will be converted to natural gas soon. Everything else has been mothballed - and in today's political climate - that makes those plants as good as dead.
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